When we heard that Nissan was dropping the price of the 370Z to $29,990 ($30,800 with destination fee) for 2014, we just had to review it. Our goal: To see if Nissan could deliver the true “Z experience” in a stripped-down car.
|1. Nissan cut the price for 2014 by just over $3,000 to $30,800.
2. The as-tested Touring model with a sport package and extras costs $41,260.
3. Nissan offers a six-speed manual or seven-speed automatic.
4. EPA estimates suggest 18 mpg city, 26 mpg highway.
That said, the stripped-down Z hasn’t actually been stripped down; Nissan simply slashed the price by three grand. The $30,000 base-model Z delivers gives you the same bits as last year’s 370Z, including a 332 horsepower VQ-series V6 engine, six-speed manual transmission, 18-inch alloys shod with Yokohama ADVAN Sport tires, keyless entry and push-button ignition.
Alas, finding an actual $30,000 Z turned out to be a lot trickier than we expected. We had correspondents all over the US and Canada check their respective press fleets, and while most were stocked with high-end Nismos and roadsters, there was not a single cheap Z to be found.
Then we were invited to a press event near Nissan’s corporate headquarters in Tennessee and we asked if there might be a base-model 370Z hanging around the office. Pay dirt! Nissan quickly agreed for us to spend a day in the car. That was easy, we thought. Too easy. Sure enough, a few days before our trip, Nissan’s one and only base-model Z was in a wreck. No human casualties, but the Z was a goner.
To Test Or Not To Test…
And so we came up with a compromise, which plays out in our photos. Nissan found us a white base-model Z at a friendly dealer, the interior of which we were free to poke, prod and photograph. For driving, though, we were given the red car in the photos, a $36,080 Touring model with the $3,030 Sport package, optioned up to $41,260 — about as far away from the Base model Z as you can get without buying a Chevrolet Impala. We’d just have to turn off the rev-matching downshift feature and pretend.
It soon became clear that the Nissan PR staffers were deathly afraid of our reaction to the base version, as if our butt cheeks might melt if they contacted a seat upholstered in something other than leather. They needn’t have worried, as the base-model Z’s cabin is quite a nice place: Aside from the simplified stereo, a giant storage bin in place of a navigation system, the lack of cowhide on the seats and a plastic slug where the rev-matching button normally goes, there wasn’t much to differentiate the $30,000 Z from the $41,000 Sport-Touring model we drove (which, we hasten to add, has also received a price cut of $2,550).
Sports Enhancements You Can’t “Tune Out”
Sorting out the driving experience was a bit more difficult. The Sport package on our tester included larger wheels and tires, a stiffer suspension, and bigger brakes, as well as the aforementioned rev-matching gizmo for the manual transmission. We would have to draw on our experience with Zs past and essentially work downward.
One thing that is common to all 370Zs is the car’s basic nature: It has a big, heavy-on-the-road feel reminiscent of the great Japanese sports cars of the 1990s, vehicles like the twin-turbo 300ZX, the Toyota Supra, and the Mitsubishi 3000GT. This is not a sedan masquerading as a sports car; it’s the real deal. You sit low and deep in supportive buckets, and view the world through small windows. Visibility out front is fine, but the rear three-quarter view is terrible — no big sin while driving, but backing out of a parking spot can be treacherous. Mundane as it may seem, one of the biggest problems with the entry-level Z is that it doesn’t come with a backup camera.
The star of the show is the 3.7-liter V6 engine. The VQ, and its EPA fuel economy estimates of 18 mpg city and 26 mpg highway on premium gas, is a bit of a throwback to the days when fuel costs weren’t terribly important. Nothing throw-back-ish about the performance, though: The 370Z accelerates with a soulful wail that four-cylinder turbo engines just can’t recreate. And while the fuel economy figures aren’t stellar, they are honest; we saw right around 19 mpg in our day of driving.
Honest-to-Goodness Sports Car Experience
Though it technically shouldn’t factor into our review, since it’s part and parcel of the Sport package, the rev-matching feature is pretty cool. When you change down to a lower gear, the Z automatically revs its engine to the right RPM – so if your speed equates to, say, 4,500 RPM in fourth gear, moving the shifter towards fourth gear will rev the engine to 4,500. Not only does this make you look like a driving deity, but it also saves wear on the transmission and, more importantly, assures minimal weight transfer in cornering like a heel-and-toe downshift, but with 100 percent accuracy and without the fancy footwork. Our correspondent is pretty good at matched-rev downshifts – he used to drive a bus with a non-synchronized transmission – but with the system disabled, he couldn’t match the system’s speed, smoothness and accuracy.
What about handling? With a deeply ingrained fear of Southern cops (we’re from the Nawth), we pushed the Z to speeds high enough for at ticket but low enough to escape jail and the impound yard, and found that it would have taken higher speeds (or perhaps sharper curves) to unseat the Z. Here, the Sport package makes a difference: It features significantly wider tires (245 cm up front and 275 cm in back, versus 225 front/245 rear for the base car) and substitutes Bridgestone Potenza RE050 tires for the base car’s Yokohama Advan Sports. (Both are high-performance summer tires). While we enjoyed the Z’s physics-defying hold on the pavement, we wouldn’t have minded the losing a little grip either. We were actually looking forward to getting a better feel for the Z’s chassis balance.
The “Sport” Package
The Sport package also includes a significant brake upgrade: Larger rotors (14″ front, 13.8″ rear, vs. 12.6″ all around in the base car) and upgraded calipers. We’ve never run into problems with the 370Z’s brakes, but the upgraded system in our red tester didn’t strike us as being over-the-top. Considering the velocity and grip this car can generate, we felt better having the upgraded braking system at our feet.
All that considered, if it was our money in play, we would spend the extra dough to outfit our 370Z with the Sport package. The bigger brakes and rev-matching feature alone make it worth the 10% price increase over the base car and who would say no to a stiffer chassis, nicer wheels, and wider tires? Besides, a 2014 370Z with the Sport package actually costs $80 less than last year’s base-model Z. So it’s almost like getting the extra goodies for free. Sort of…
What Else Can Those Bucks Buy?
If you’re buying a Z on price, you have to consider what else you can get for your money. The front-runner is Subaru’s new-for-2015 WRX, which will give the Z a run for its money on the straights and in the curves. But it’s a sedan, not a true sports car and its all-wheel-drive layout offers a very different driving experience. Same for the Scion FR-S and Subaru BR-Z, which are dedicated rear-drive sports cars with smaller engines (and smaller prices). We love the balance of the Scibaru twins, but comparing them to the 370Z is like comparing a scalpel to a machete. Sometimes you just need to hack the crap out of something. We’d also consider the front-drive Focus ST, but while the ST is its own kind of wonderful, we like the old-school feel of the Z.
Bottom line: We like the $30,000 370Z, although we like the $33,830 370Z with Sport Package even better. We can definitely live without the gee-gaws in the Touring trim level, and while the bits and bobs in the Sport package certainly enhance the driving experience, the car certainly doesn’t fall apart without them. Is the $30,000 370Z a proper Z? We say yes.